Written evidence from Belle Media Ltd (OLL 10)

 

Belle Media is a London based media consultancy that draws on a wide range of creative sector experience, from production, studio operations, post-production and new media. Belle Media's Directors: Kay Hutchison and Richard Dikstra, have between them over 60 years experience of the industry working at senior levels in a range of sectors; including broadcast, cable and satellite, feature film and video games. The company has extensive contacts across the UK creative sector, particularly in London.

 

We have been interested in the potential legacy use of the International Broadcast Centre and Main Press Centre that is being built for the 2012 Games for well over 2 years. From this involvement we would make the following observations which we hope will be helpful to the Committee in its deliberations on the Olympic Legacy:

 

Summary:

 

Interest in using the MPC/IBC does exist, but is awaiting a firm offering.

It is only now, with the establishment of the OPLC, that prospective tenants have had anyone to properly engage with in discussing the site.

London is a major creative centre, employing many tens of thousands of people and generating billions of pounds for the UK economy.

The creative sector is also a highly competitive international market and maintaining London's position and its competitive advantage should be an important national priority.

The MPC/IBC offers an opportunity to create a new creative commercial centre that would help London retain its position as a leading international creative player.

Changing models of production in a digital era open up interesting possibilities for shared physical infrastructure.

The Games could be a useful catalyst to foster cooperation between the higher education sector in East London and London's creative industries.

There is a window of opportunity to properly consider the options for the MPC/IBC site, but action needs to be taken over the next 6 months

All players need to be encouraged to cooperate if the country is to maximise the benefit of the substantial public investment that has been made at the site.

 

From our discussions with a wide range of industry players Belle Media believes:

 

a) Whilst no firm tenants have yet emerged, there is genuine interest in the possible use of the IBC and MPC facilities from within the creative and media sectors in London.

 

As yet however we are still some 3 years away from the time when the site might be commercially available. Details of what exactly could be provided, at what cost, or indeed by whom they would be run, are only just emerging. It is therefore not surprising few companies have actively engaged in any detailed assessment of the opportunity. They await firm proposals about the site. All this however is completely understandable given the priority until recently has been focussed on delivering the Games. We are confident that with the establishment of the OPLC and its active engagement in the issues firm proposals will start to be discussed.

 

b) We believe the IBC building(s) presents a particular challenge but also potentially a unique opportunity to provide low cost studio accommodation and workspace serving both established linear broadcasters and new digital companies and entrepreneurs. The significant amount of space available will allow for a radical rethinking of how such studio accommodation can be used to better fit the needs of modern production and a more atomised production sector. We also believe some of the space can be designed to have wider use as multi-purpose performance space. We believe the options for the IBC space need to be fully examined to ensure the opportunity is not lost.

 

c) London is a major, indeed world class, centre for the creative industries. The city has built upon a strong historical tradition, across a range of creative industries, and has also benefited from long-term public support of the arts, theatre, broadcasting and film production, all of course centred on a world-class city. These interrelationships are a vital element in determining success.

 

However it is also important to recognise that London's leading position is by no means guaranteed in a highly competitive global market and many other centres across the world are also interested in establishing media clusters and trying to foster creative industries and digital media. Availability of skilled labour, tax treatments on investment in production and suitable physical infrastructure vary across locations, but are also important factors in determining success. High speed broadband also makes it much easier to move even the most complex technical operations to other locations, or indeed share out work across centres. Wherever and whenever producers believe they can gain commercial advantage they will do so and work will thus be subject to increasingly fierce competition. London's position is therefore always under some considerable degree of threat.

 

d) London still of course has many advantages: a highly diverse creative sector (advertising, design, production, fashion, graphics, web, games, etc), one used to working internationally, with strong established players, high quality creative and technical staff and access to funding, but it also needs to ensure it has the right facilities, training, and support structures if it is to retain its position.

 

The IBC/MPC offers London an important opportunity to use some of the investment made for the Games to help develop a new centre for creative industries. A media focussed development on the site would build on the success of a sector already making a considerable contribution to the UK economy and in an area already boasting a strong creative community. The site is well connected- both with the rest of London and indeed, via Eurostar, and City Airport to Europe- and is close to existing centres of the creativity- Soho, Hoxton, etc. It is also well served by a range of higher educational institutes offering a range of appropriate expertise and courses. It could quickly expect to become a major employer in the area. We are also aware of strong local political support for such an initiative.

 

e) We believe that there are a number of opportunities to create new working relationships more suited to the high-speed broadband environment foreseen in Digital Britain. The Olympic Media Complex offers the space to create an entrepreneurially focussed media cluster fostering closer relationships between producers, creatives and higher education. Conversations have begun with a number of interested parties. Kay Hutchison has been actively involved for some time with Skillset's Legacy Board (Skillset is the Sector's Skill Council for the Creative Media) which has been looking at these issues and the opportunities in linking companies, colleges and universities and schools. These conversations now need to be built upon.

 

f) As we see it a key advantage of the IBC/MPC site now is the uniqueness of the timeframe. It is already a rapidly emerging as a physical reality but actually will not be available for commercial occupation until 2013. This actually gives the OPLC time to optimise plans of what now is a given physical space. The opportunity is thus very much there to create a vibrant commercial creative hub that genuinely brings a new approach to the way the creative sector operates as the country embraces a fully digital age.

 

g) In terms of timescale we believe nonetheless that it is also essential as part of the marketing of the facility to maintain the momentum that will be generated from the excitement of the Olympics. This excitement is an important asset. Planning should be directed at having an offering that anticipates moving tenants in as soon as possible after the Games - ie early 2013. Prospective tenants therefore need to know exactly what is being offered and under what terms as soon as possible- but certainly towards the end of this year.

 

h) The Olympics, and the infrastructure that is being built to support the Games, offers a unique opportunity to create a dynamic new media workspace that would significantly add to the facilities available in London. There is rightly continuing pressures on costs but we also need to ensure that long-term value for money is also part of the decision process. We would submit that the Committee should urge all involved - DCMS, DCLG, BIS, LOCOG, ODA and the OPLC (and other development organisations) to ensure that this opportunity is fully exploited to the benefit of the UK's creative industry and to the country's economy.

 

January 2010